A Gorgeous Greek Revival Row House in Fairmount, Philadelphia

You just never know what’s going to happen during your long training run for the Philadelphia half marathon!

Philadelphia is one of the great row house cities in the United States, and maybe the world (we like to imagine it so, lol!). Certainly, there is a great diversity of row homes here, representing centuries of architectural styles. So, it’s easy to find great row homes while you’re out and about.

Still, it’s always a nice surprise when you not only find a superb example but also have the owners invite you in, even though you’re sweaty and they have a party to prepare for.

Meet Joe and Steve’s very elegant Greek Revival row house! Here, Joe is tending to his garden; just before inviting me in!

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

What caught my eye in particular are the lush window boxes and the iron work around the parlor floor and entrance. A house from this period doesn’t have to have small-pane windows but it’s just a lovely touch, referencing the city’s rich Federal architectural past. I walked closer to get a better look and saw the door which is just beautiful! The iron work on the door is very cohesive with the railings around the window box.

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Joe said that the house used to be gray, pretty much inside and out. They decided to paint the 1896 Greek Revival row house a crisp white. Against the white, the green shutters contrast and punctuate the facade nicely. Most of the garden in the front is also green, giving a very coordinated face to the street.

It’s a typical feature of Greek Revival row homes to have a small foyer leading into the hall. Like many houses in this style, the hall and stairs go along the side of the home. These entryways always have wonderful tile or wallpaper and this is no exception. Look at that molding! The window above the door would have opened, allowing for heat to escape. It’s always hard to capture the scale of a space but those are quite high ceilings.

Entrance - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Here is the first look into the house. The owners have maintained the original layout of the home. Joe told me that when they bought the home in 1987, the owner had requested they keep the home a single dwelling and it remains as such to this day. He also mentioned that throughout the home, the molding is largely original.

Stairs - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Turning around before moving on, you can see the foyer and doors from the inside looking out. One thing to notice is that the interior light is very muted. Although the house does have electrical lights (naturally!) and can be perfectly bright, the owners have plenty of indirect lighting options which creates a very period feel to the lighting in the home.

Entryway and hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After walking into the hall, to the right is the doorway into the parlor. Although having the door and the stairs on the left of the house leaves the house asymmetrical, once you enter the formal rooms, the elements, such as these windows, are symmetrically placed. Unfortunately, my iPhone doesn’t take the best photos when the room is dark and the windows are bright and sunny, so some of the details are lost.

One thing to note is that when you have a parlor floor, or when the first floor of a home starts a few feet above street level, you can have lovely full-height windows without losing too much privacy to sidewalk traffic, except for curious runners.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
The back half of the parlor contains a grand piano which illustrates the scale of the room. Despite having plenty of space, you can see that this room multitasks as a formal parlor, library, and music room in true row house style.

I’ve got better light in this photo so you can see the molding and plaster work on the ceiling. The red wallpaper fits appropriately with the original period of the home. Victorians were very keen on wallpaper, which was the fashion on both sides of the pond. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask if the wallpaper was based on an original design.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Through the door is a small passage Joe that calls the gallery. The art displayed through the home is really an incredible collection and every small area holds a treasure. The home practically frames the art.

Continuing on, the next room is the formal dining room. Again, the wallpaper is really on-target for the period. Joe said that when they purchased the home, all the walls were gray and all the trim was white. Although they agreed not to alter the layout, they did liven up the walls.

Another really nice touch is the black and white marble floor. This is a very classic look found in many grand historic homes.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Often, in a row house that hasn’t been overly renovated, you will see fireplaces. Joe says that there are two remaining working fireplaces in the house. Originally, this row house would have had two on each of the main floors and one in the kitchen for cooking. Below is the mantle of the dining room fireplace. The white and blue pottery is very complimentary of the wallpaper.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
There is nothing like built-in storage!Built-in china cabinet - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the dining room is the kitchen which is quite lovely. However, Joe and Steve were getting ready to entertain and were bustling about so no photos. There was a finish on the window that, when the light and colors from the garden shone through, looked like the watery stained glass of a Tiffany window.
Powder room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Just outside the back door is an oasis of a backyard garden. These personal green spaces never cease to amaze me. Often, although not on this block, the streets don’t have any trees on them and look quite bleak. What happens behind the row homes often more than compensate.
Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After visiting the garden, it was back through the house to progress upstairs to view the remaining public rooms.
Entry hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
If I had a bathroom like this, I would never leave it. Thanks to all the reflective surfaces, this room practically glows – even without a light on. The windows are leaded stained glass and the light fixture, also glass, is just tremendous. Inadvertently, I’ve taken a selfie in my running gear.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
More of the fantastic bathroom. I have to say, I spent a good deal of time in the house going “oooh” and “aaaah.” My hosts were very patient and entirely gracious. Here, with the light on, you can get an idea of the reflective surfaces of the mirrored tile and the glazed subway tile. Dazzling would be the best way to describe it.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the office area was originally a walled off area that served as a closet. There was paneling on the walls. One day, Joe shared, he drank a lot of coffee and, with a friend, pulled all of the paneling, as well as the wall, down. When they were done, they were left with a small room, overlooking the roof over the kitchen. His friend built wooden stairs, visible in the lower right corner of the photo, that lead up to french doors and out onto a roof deck. Here is another example of how the house frames the art.
Enclave - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Here are the doors opened and leading out to the roof deck.
Roof deck - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Finally, I asked if this medallion was original to the house. Joe told me that it was salvaged from the home he grew up in, also an older home painted Quaker gray with white trim, that had been demolished due to fire. It is a touching tribute from one house to another.

Mantle and wall decor - Greek Revival Row House, PhiladelphiaWalking through the house was like taking a journey. Everything has a story, from the house itself to all the carefully curated things within. Considering the Victorians themselves were master collectors, it seems quite fitting that Joe and Steve carry on that tradition.

I can’t thank Joe and Steve enough for sharing their beautiful row home with us!

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Research

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

You don’t have to face renovation alone. These are a small sample of the associations you can reach out to for assistance with your renovation. If you have an association near you, please let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

 

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Renovation & Restoration

Georgian row house in Philadelphia.Row houses come in every age. If you have an older row home and you wish to preserve the authenticity, the following resources may prove useful.

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

 

Perfectly Combining Sophistication and Historic Sensibility in Jersey City

I am pleased to introduce Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong. They own a beautiful Georgian / Greek Revival row home in Jersey City, New Jersey that they have lovingly restored. Their home is a wonderful juxtaposition of comfort and elegance with a great respect for the history of their home.

Where is your neighborhood?

Richard: Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey.

Richard: Jersey City is a city in transition — particularly since 9/11, 2001, when a lot of New Yorkers moved across the Hudson River. It’s an amazingly diverse community; there actually feels like there’s a sense of community here, and we’re only 25 minutes by the PATH train away from mid-town New York. We live in the Harsimus Cove section of Downtown, and there are about 3-4 connected sections within the city that comprise the Historic Preservation District, safeguarded by the JC Historic Preservation Council.

Is your house historic?

Richard: Yes, our house was built in 1833 — at least that is the earliest deed to the property that we’ve been able to investigate by examining public records, but regardless, the house definitely falls between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I am not certain of the style but I think Georgian is the closest.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Exterior of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Any famous structures or neighbors nearby?

Richard: At the time our row of four houses was built, the only other structures nearby were the Baptist Church on the far end of other corner, and Grace van Voorst Episcopalian Church around the corner from us. Both churches were two important stops along the Underground Railroad. Jersey City, in fact was a big hub of the Underground Railroad because many slaves were brought to freedom there and then safely transported to other abolitionist safe spaces. In our house, we’ve always thought it strange that the basement door had only one lock and it was on the inside of the door, rather than the obvious outside of the door. We’d like to think that our house, too, was perhaps a part of the Underground Railroad. Hiding folks in the basement, with only access out provided when the coast-was-clear, seems like a pretty ingenious method to hide people in safety.

How long have you been living in your row house?

Richard: We moved in on July 4, 2002.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Front hall of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

What made you decide to embrace the row house life?

Richard: We always knew that we would find the house that was meant for us if it “sang to us.” The moment we crossed over the threshold on to the original red and white Minton tiles, we elbowed each other and nodded that “this is what we’d like to be shown by the realtor!” We had been looking for several months with another realtor who was showing us everything but what we had asked to see. And on some days we would drive from one freak show to another. Finally, we went into a building that, probably at one time, was a beautiful, elegant mansion but now just stepping on the staircase made it pull it a foot away from the wall. We turned and ran… literally!

Richard: We made an appointment with a new local realtor recommended to us by friends. We got to the appointment about 30 minutes early so we figured we’d walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area. Michael, unable to pass by a stoop sale, points to a tree, with a sign reading “Parlor Sale” and wanted to go in. I was nervous about being late for our appointment but he convinced me that we’d be in and out of the parlor sale quickly. We followed the arrows up to the parlor floor, noticing that the entire first floor was covered with moving boxes and stacks of furniture. We then asked the guy running the sale why he was moving — because it seemed like such a beautiful house. He told us it had something to do with the owner selling it. We asked, “This house is for sale?” “Yes,” he replied and went on to tell us who the realtor was — the exact person we were supposed to meet in 30 minutes. We ran to the office, asked for the realtor, and told him he was about to make the easiest sale of his career. To his credit, he did his due diligence and showed us one or two more homes before giving us an “official” walk-through of what we just knew would be our new home. We made a counter offer to the current owner and he accepted it, pending inspection. So, as far as we are concerned, row house living decided to embrace us!

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Dining room of Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You mentioned in your original post on HGTV’s “Rate My Space,” that your home is one in a row of four that were built for one family. Your house was the last to remain in the original family’s possession. That’s an amazing history. Is there more to the story?

Richard: The only things remaining to the story are that we loved the house from the minute we saw it, realized that it had “grown” biomorphically — layer upon layer of improvements — e.g. handmade parquet floors in some rooms laid directly on the original pumpkin pine, a huge copper bay window in front of the house extending out from the dining room (it’s really a large piece of folk art made by the last owner’s father). There was an 80 year old rose bush in the back yard which was ripped out by the tenants living here before we bought the place, so we’ve planted new Don Juan climbers in that spot (the only climbing rose with a scent), the basement has the original hand hewn beams, (Michael: The structural beams are logs!). All of the doorknobs are placed lower than they would be on today’s doors since people were much shorter when the house was built.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve done a beautiful job renovating and capturing the original style of the interior. Did you find a lot of original details? What sort of research did you do to keep with the period style of your early 19th Century home?

Richard: We have not touched anything in the house structurally, and the house needed very little renovation, per se — Pearl, the last family owner and her sister, hermetically sealed all of the old details beneath 70s paneling and drop ceiling acoustic tiles and shag carpeting. When the man who bought it from the estate removed all of the “mid-Century” improvements, all of the original wainscoting, mirrors, lincrusta and agalypta walls coverings, and beautiful flooring had been preserved. What we’ve tried to do is follow the shapes that already exist in the house (e.g. curved walls, patterns on the lincrusta) and chosen furnishings that reflect those shapes. One thing we did try to avoid, however, was anything Victorian and tried to keep things more Edwardian and masculine in feel.

When you chose your furniture and decor elements, did you adhere to an overall plan or did the style develop organically over time?

Michael: When Richard and I sat down to discuss and choose the colors for the entire house, we did so in about 45 minutes. Once chosen, we drove to the paint/hardware supplier in our neighborhood and offered him a list of the paints we needed… 53 gallons in all. (His eye’s completely bugged out of his head!) Although the color pallet appears simple, many rooms have up to four or five historical colors and different finishes too. Since it is an old house, we decided it should look and feel like one. By avoiding white (except for the trim work in the bathroom) it offered a warm and nest like quality. And since the house didn’t have electricity until the early 1900s (stumps of gas lines are still visible in every room) we both agreed that smoky colors would have been the best way to re-tell that part of it’s past. Although the painting took several years… plastering, patching and sanding, sanding, sanding… our originally chosen palette was carefully followed. Brown-tones, rich tans, satin black, musty olive greens, and a coral red were colors that were used again and again. The century old delicate wall treatments were minimally repaired and repainted and then treated with painterly glazes to accentuate their detail. Since our living room is just that, a living room, the color green for me best symbolizes it. The green sharkskin silk draperies were made of the same color to add luxury but to minimize them at the same time. The dining room is also monochromatic in shades of brown with drapes made of yards of silk to match.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Michael: The furniture was chosen for it’s simplicity, comfort, practicality and scale and although it all looks kinda’ old, it’s a mix of this that and the other… antiques, floor-room samples, Salvation Army, stoop sale rescues and garbage night discoveries. (I can cure leprosy with a coat of paint and Richard could rewire the Chrysler Building!) Since everything in the house is skinny and tall, everything we’ve added to the house is vertical. We’ve focused on vertical elements – stripes point up (notice the pin-striping on the couches) high back chairs, columns, draperies… tall, tall, tall. (If you can’t beat them, join them.)

Michael: And then to make the house look and feel like the Addams Family might have once lived here, something large and black was integrated into every room. That paired with the new and spooky additions – the secret wall that swings open to reveal the basement, the bookcase that unmasks a guest room and a cabinet that mysteriously lowers to reveal yet another place for guests to spend the night – make for a surprise in every corner.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Did you adhere to the original dimensions of the rooms? Or have you opened the space up?

Michael: Except for some minor alterations, we’ve kept the rooms and the footprint of the house exactly the way we found it.

There are always challenges with owning an historic row home. What issues have you faced and what are some solutions you’ve used?

Richard: We live in a designated historic district and so sometimes the bureaucracy slows things down, but it’s all worth it. All of the houses in our row had been painted over the front brick sometime in the 50s-60s and looked horrible — red paint with a black stenciled “pointing” that never matched the actual brick and pointing beneath. We had our house stripped first, and had to make our case with the Historic Commission as to why we didn’t want the new pointing to be toothpaste white as they were insisting. Our feeling was that we wanted our house to look like a house that was built in 1833, not 2002, and to look like an old home and therefore wanted the pointing to look like it had been exposed to the elements for all those years. We’re happy that we won that decision. Two of the other three houses in our row did the same. The fourth house in our row, on the corner, has a store beneath the living quarters, and they haven’t yet stripped their brick. Their house is painted to match the house across the street from it.

Richard: Another challenge we had when we purchased the house was that the former tenants had decided to put a garden in the front and a water-feature in the backyard — each of which covered the airspace/windows that had allowed the house to breath for 170 years (these windows were probably originally used as coal shoots). So we had a lot of problems with dampness in the basement until we got rid of the piles of dirt covering the windows. Then, when indoor plumbing was installed in the late 1800s/early 1900s, all 4 houses were put on one sewer line connected from the back, leading to the avenue 3 houses away from ours. Over time, with the use of modern conveniences, more bathing, etc., the original sewer lines just rotted and we had a raw sewage emergency three Christmases ago. The municipal utilities crews were out immediately and we each got a separate sewer line from our homes directly out to the street in front. Had we not been four houses joined together on one line, the work would have cost each of us upwards of $20,000, but because of the original sewer set up, the city worked for free.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

You’ve been very environmentally conscientious with your home. Share with us some things you did to make you older home more earth-friendly.

Richard: We’ve replaced the energy inefficient appliances as we’ve proceeded and have replaced all but two windows with thermal pane models. We put our boiler on a thermostat and keep the temperature a few degrees cooler than we would like and just wear sweaters and layers. Our upstairs toilet, which is part of the original house’s indoor plumbing has a beautiful, ornate porcelain bowl, and at one time probably had a wood tank with a chain. Somewhere along the line, a back tank was jerry-rigged onto the old bowl. To improve the system’s efficiency, we put water-filled bottles into the tank to save water with each flush, since the original bowl is not up to code but too beautiful to remove. At some point, we will have it removed and restored and perhaps even reinstall the ceiling wood tank which they still sell in catalogs.

Jersey_City_1830_Row_House_08

Michael is the author of “Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing.” I find that cleaning my home puts me into a wonderfully happy place. Up to this point I thought I might be insane. Is there really a zen to cleaning? Do you think that cleaning a row house especially increases one’s tranquility? (At RowHouse we like to think row houses are extra special!)

Richard: Michael is definitely the best person to answer this question, particularly since his recipes are non-commercial and use ingredients that were most probably used by people in the 1800s.

Michael: When we clean our homes with materials that don’t poison us much of the drudgery melts away. I’m a neat-nick and hate a mess so cleaning – at least for me – is an everyday occurrence. It’s amazing how just-about anything can be cleaned and once done – outside of painting it, re-building it, re-plastering it, or re-wiring it – the simplest renovations can occur. Our forefathers were right… the purest and simplest means to cleanliness are indeed the best.

Obviously you are very proud of your home and the love shows in the attention to every detail. What is the best thing you like about your row house?

Richard: It’s not so much the pride we feel in the house as the love we have for it. It is a very modest house, probably built for a family of factory workers or housekeepers for the wealthier families a bit further south from our house. But everywhere we look, there is something that makes us smile and appreciate it all over again. There are several rooms per floor and I often don’t go into some for weeks at a time, and so it’s like discovering a hidden treasure all over again.

Michael: I not only clean a little bit in our house every day I also work on a project in our house every day… it’s how I procrastinate. It’s the way I slip away and find my center. I too am surprised by rediscovering something I’ve completely forgotten about. You know the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” I’m sometimes so focused on some detail that I forget the larger picture. But when I sometimes walk into the house I share with my partner Richard, and I see the sunlight across the dining room table and the surfaces all seem to perk up in the way I had imagined… it all seems worth it.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

Georgian / Greek Revival row house in Jersey City. Photos: Richard Haymes and Michael DeJong.

About the portrait in the library, is he a relative? Former resident? He’s just perfect there. For our story about the Joseph Sims House we were able to get a portrait of the original resident. It was nice to put a face with the house.

Richard: Even before we owned this house we had a small cottage in Northeast Pennsylvania, for which we started collecting portraits — the man in the library was our first purchase. Since then we’ve been avid collectors of miniature portraits as well as folk art from the 1800s. Michael can explain more about them all.

Michael: Many of the paintings that we own are objects that we’ve discovered and feel that they tell a story. When we walk friends or visitors though our house we point out the pictures of the “Dead Folks.” Although many of the faces are unknown and the painters names obliterated over time, the life-sized full-figured self portrait of a man at the top of the stairs through research has been identified.

Michael: We found the painting on e-bay. Since I’m always looking for that “needle in a haystack” I found it listed under oil “potraits.” (I’m always looking for misspellings… e-bay doesn’t have a spell-check system.) The seller wanted to unload the painting and its amazing original frame and the only information we were told was that the original owner had come from Denmark. Knowing that, I visited the The Skagen Museum in Denmark’s virtual tour and voila! There was an other painting that looked like the one we had just purchased on e-bay. The artist’s name is Peder Kroyer. With minimal research, I found mountains of support material (including a photo found online of him in exactly the same clothing from the 1880s) and, once here in our home, we were able to have it appraised and authenticated.

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Research

A wooden row house in Brooklyn Heights, New York.Baltimore City Historic Society

Athenaeum of Philadelphia

Historic House Trust – New York City

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

National Parks Service – Technical Preservation Services

New York Historical Society

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

The Bostonian Society

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

If you would like to be added to this list, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Shared Post: Quality Row Newburgh, NY

Think you need to live in a big city to live in a row house? Nope! They’re all over the place. Large towns, small towns, suburbs… you name it!

We recently were introduced to the town of Newburgh, NY, where they have some lovely row house. Cher Vick from Newburgh Restoration was nice enough to share the following post with us about some beautiful row homes in the town.

On a small block on First Street in the City of Newburgh are a row of homes (112-120) that are kept in amazing condition known as Quality Row. They are really a showpiece for what other blocks in Newburgh have the potential to look like. Although the houses across the street don’t quite look like these, they are a breath of fresh air.

Quality Row Newburgh 3 Quality Row Newburgh

These Federal style houses were designed in 1835 by Thornton Niven and built on land that had been the garden of Rev. John Brown. They are now national historic landmarks. The house at 116 First Street is known as the Clinton-Deyo House. It has a plaque that says that in 1836 Thomas Edison stayed there as a guest while establishing the Edison Illuminating Company. In 1883 it was Newburgh’s first private home to be wired for electricity. It was also wonderfully restored by Don Herron back in 1994. He unfortunately passed away this year.

Quailty Row Newburgh 2 Quality Row Newburgh

So where did the name Quality Row come from anyway? According to the 1891 publication Newburgh: Her Institutions, Industries and Leading Citizens, “At the time of their erection these house were considered much above the average in cost and elegance, and for this reason, combined with the high social standing of the original occupants, the buildings were known throughout the village as “Quality Row,” a designation which still lingers among our old families.” That designation still lingers today, over 100 years later!

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Publications

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

Acorn Street, Boston, MA. Source: Amanda Beattie

Bricks and Brownstones: The New York Town House

Old House Journal

The American Townhouse

The Modern Townhouse: The Latest in Urban and Suburban Designs

The Old House Web

This Old House

Please note that listing a product or company here is not an endorsement of the product and/or its quality. Listings here are meant to be useful and informative but not promotional. Companies listed here have not paid compensation to be listed.

If you would like to be added to this list, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Reader’s Letter – Taking on a BIG renovation project.

There are times when life gets in the way of our website. Thankfully, we have this blog which allows us to keep up with our readers in the meanwhile.

We recently received an email from a brave reader in Washington DC, who is looking to restore a row house shell and asked if we at RowHouse had any advice.

I love people who are willing to restore an old home. Neighborhoods are reborn through restoration. It’s our very favorite type of recycling. And, to reward the intrepid owner for saving a row house in need, they get a custom home. But there are some things to consider.

Renovations are expensive. Tally up the total you think it will be and double it. For every cost you are aware of, there will be sneaky things like eating out, renting tools, permits and cookies for the workers. Renovation is not decorating. You can’t compromise or go cheap on things that will affect safety or stability of your home. Cutting corners results in horror stories later on. Make sure you have ample budget.

Along with plenty of money, make sure you have plenty of time. A realistic time frame will allow you enough time to make informed decisions about everything from the layout and interior design to the small details like palette and fixtures.

It is unlikely a larger renovation will be something you can do entire alone so you’ll need to assemble a team of professionals like an architect (someone who can not only design but also navigate the permit process), engineer, contractor, plumber and electrician (at least). Having friends who can help out, provide moral support and the occasional place to stay is also helpful. To get the best team, ask your friends who’ve had work done for recommendations. Angie’s List and ServiceMagic are great websites for honest reviews of contractors/plumbers/etc. Remember, the people you hire to help you are going to make or break you so do a lot of research and check all references, confirm insurance and proper licenses.

Before you buy, you want to make sure the row house has a sound foundation. If the bones aren’t good, all the other repairs you do will fall apart so you want to make sure there is no structural damage. If that’s ok, your team will help you decide what to do next.

Take some time to educate yourself about home restoration. Most cities also have development groups, such as an historic architecture/preservation committee, who can also provide guidance. Again, the more research you do and the more knowledgeable you become, the better your renovation will turn out.

Renovating is an adventure. It’s also like running a marathon. Taking your time and pacing yourself usually gets the best results. Go into the project knowing that things will go wrong and take twice as long as you anticipate and you’ll be fine.

oldNewSouthPhilly_02

Old Meets New in South Philadelphia

The front of the house.

The front of the house.

Originally posted summer 2009. Photos by Frank Dreitlein.

Sharon and Jeremy were intrigued long before their home was completed. They would sit at a nearby café and admire the home’s beautiful copper flashing. They said they just “knew something interesting was inside.”

Former residents of Lombard Street, in Center City Philadelphia, Sharon and Jeremy were coincidentally looking for something a little bigger than their current home. Luckily, the very home they were admiring, was not only captivating from the exterior, it was very spacious on the inside as well, being well over 2500 square feet. Kelly Monk, a local realtor, assisted them with the acquisition of the house. Inayah Hart from Coldwell BankerPreferred in Old City, Philadelphia, first introduced RowHouse to the home as it was being built.

Developer Stanley Bailey has been renovating old homes in Philadelphia for the past nine years. He also worked on the Queen Anne semi-attached in Parkside we wrote about previously. Although he typically prefers to keep as much period detail and originality, in this case, nearly the entire house needed to be rebuilt. Aside from the exposed brick on the shared walls, nearly everything else was built from scratch. This blank slate allowed for freedom within the row house resulting in a very modern layout and open feel.

The new owners, Sharon and Jeremy, are very excited about their new, old home which has all the luxuries any homeowner could ask for including a wine cellar, loft office space with a view of the skyline, a water fall and a roof deck with panoramic, 360 degree views of Philadelphia.

One aspect of development and restoration that Stanley enjoys is choosing the best quality finishes and materials. For this house he chose a cream-colored onyx floor tile for the basement and hardwood throughout the rest of the house. The indoor waterfall is tiled in stone. The stairs were built new and feature a custom made, stainless steel banister with an almost industrial aesthetic. Recessed exterior lighting showcases the home’s unique exterior. The kitchen features custom cabinatry and stainless steel appliances.

Looking toward the back to the kitchen.

Looking toward the back to the kitchen.

Although barely moved in, Sharon was gracious enough to lead us on a tour through her home. Her choice of multiple, rich colors for the interior are strong but blend wonderfully and enhance the architectural lines from one space to the other. She loves the kitchen where the clean modern lines of contemporary styling meet crown molding, a characteristic of a more traditional home. Recycled glass subway tile was used in the backsplash giving the classic pattern a modern twist.

The waterfall, a unique feature in a row house, occupies an area created by the normal space between row houses built around the turn of the century and where the kitchen was expanded. The resulting channel goes the entire height of the house. On the first floor, it will be the focal point of the dining room. On the second floor, it’s adjacent to the laundry area. Sharon says the waterfall makes ironing so pleasant that she now irons everything, including sheets.

Also on the second floor are two bedrooms, shared by Sharon’s three children, each with its own bath. One of the bathrooms was the stage for some early drama in their new home as one of their cats decided to hide in the vanity. After several hours of searching, including engaging their new neighbors to search the block, they found the cat nestled in a drawer.

Facing the front. The rich colors balance the industrial quality of the exposed brick and custom banister.

Facing the front. The rich colors balance the industrial quality of the exposed brick and custom banister.

On the third floor is the master suite. Above the sleeping area is an office loft with windows that overlook downtown Philadelphia’s skyline. These private areas are separated from a second kitchen by a bathroom and small hall. Because the roof deck is prime entertaining space, Stanley wanted the owners to have a place to serve refreshments without having to go down two flights to the main kitchen. A narrow spiral staircase leads to the large roof deck, which features outdoor speakers and uninterrupted views of the city for miles in every direction. Despite the close proximity to the city, the house is quiet at night making the roof deck an especially peaceful place to unwind at the end of the day.

Stanley says he will miss the house he put so much energy and thought into but he equally enjoys seeing the new owners appreciate his hard work and truly love their new home.

 

 

 

 

Looking up through the waterfall channel from the dining room windows.

Looking up through the waterfall channel from the dining room windows.

 

The use of recycled glass subway tiles is both classic and modern.

The use of recycled glass subway tiles is both classic and modern.

 

Row house construction means that the basement wine cellar easily stays at a constant, appropriate temperature.

Row house construction means that the basement wine cellar easily stays at a constant, appropriate temperature.

 

The laundry overlooking the waterfall.

The laundry overlooking the waterfall.

 

The children's bedrooms.

The children’s bedrooms.

 

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French doors open to the street from one of the children's bedrooms.

French doors open to the street from one of the children’s bedrooms.

 

The master suite.

The master suite.

 

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The master suite kitchen.

The master suite kitchen.

 

The panoramic view from the roof deck.

The panoramic view from the roof deck.

 

 

The chandelier in the office.

A Victorian Gem in Chicago’s West Haven

The owner with his row house.

The owner with his row house.

Originally posted Spring 2010. Photos provided by Dan Delaney.

We’re very pleased to introduce you to Dan Delaney and Sean Buck, who live in the West Haven neighborhood of Chicago, not far from the United Center, home to the Bulls (NBA) and the Blackhawks (NHL). Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Northeastern Illinois.

Originally, their home was a four bedroom, one bathroom home, built in 1889. It’s one in a row of seven. At one point, the church across the street owned the property and had used the house for boarding. When they purchased the home in May 2009, the windows were boarded up and all of the electric and plumbing was original, aside from minor alterations to accommodate the boarding. After extensive restoration, it has now been returned to a traditional, four bedroom, one and a half bathroom home.

We asked Dan some questions about his home.

RowHouse: How did you find your row house?

Dan: I am a real estate agent in the city of Chicago. Sean and I have rented row houses for years and always dreamt of actually purchasing a row house of our own. We love the architectural aspects of Victorian row houses and adding our own modern decorating touches. Being in the real estate business, I would always see row houses come on to the market but they would always be beyond what Sean or I could afford. With the downturn in the market and the $8,000 tax credit, we were finally in a position to purchase. The first time we toured our current home there was no running water, no electricity, no heat, no kitchen and every window was boarded up with wood. Despite the downtrodden condition, we fell in love with it immediately! Almost a year later we have finally completed a majority of the renovation and now love adding our own special touches.

RowHouse: Since the United Center was built, your neighborhood has been undergoing a lot of development and revitalization. It’s a great location with easy access to public transportation and the expressway, as well as desirable urban amenities such as a variety of restaurants and an active nightlife. There are even stores, The European Furniture Warehouse, Milk Designs and Metalworks, to name a few, where you can buy nice things for your row house. What has been your experience living there?

The living room, looking into the entry hall.

The living room, looking into the entry hall.

Dan: Our neighborhood is actually just starting to be revitalized. In the 1960s, after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, there was mass rioting in the West Haven community. The destruction drove many store owners and markets out. The community didn’t have any new business come in for nearly 40 years! The neighborhood has always been considered a lower-income part of the city and unfortunately was hit very hard by the foreclosure wave. The only positive result of there being so many foreclosures in the neighborhood, is that new owners are coming in with renovation and improvement plans. There is definitely a new sense of motivation and positiveness in the neighborhood and we’re looking forward to seeing it flourish.

RowHouse: When thinking of Chicago domestic architecture, immediately Frank Llyod Wright comes to mind. The Arts and Crafts bungalow style is also very popular. Have either of these styles been translated into the local row house architecture?

Dan: Our row house was constructed in 1889, which was right during the height of Frank Lloyd Wright’s popularity. He was constructing beautiful homes just a few miles west of West Haven. Fortunately, the row houses in Chicago all hold a very Victorian feel. The architectural styles did not merge. Frank Lloyd Wright’s style is very clean line and minimal. Our home is very over-the-top with lavish floor and crown moldings and decorative ceiling medallions around the lights. It makes it very hard for us to paint, to say the least.

RowHouse: Row houses are not generally thought to be a popular urban architecture in Chicago. During the course of our research, we came across several mentions of the “rare” Chicago row house. Is your home’s row an anomaly?

Dan: Row houses are fairly rare in Chicago. Most people assume we live in a townhouse when we say “row house.” We have always lived directly west of the downtown loop area, which is where many of the middle-class, white collar families lived because the trolleys would roll right down Madison Avenue West. So we’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by gorgeous row houses for years now.

The chandelier in the office.

The chandelier in the office.

RowHouse: Your home was built during a period of reconstruction after the great fire of 1871. When you bought the house, you mentioned that it retained most of the original plumbing and electric that, for the time, must have been state of the art. What stands out as a particularly fascinating discovery?

Dan: Although much of our home’s history is still unclear, we do know that it has shifted hands quite a bit. A local church owned it at one point and we’re guessing it was even a half-way house for a while as well. We’re assuming this because our “fascinating discovery” was that there were sinks in every single bedroom. Needless to say, those were the first things to be removed in the renovation.

RowHouse: How extensive was your renovation? Were you able to save anything? Or did you want a fresh start?

Dan: The renovations were extensive for us, since this is our first time owning a home and going through this process. We were able to save almost all of the architectural details of the house while completely updating all of the electrical, plumbing, and kitchen. The whole process took us approximately four (stressful) months. Our lease had ended right around the time we started renovating the house so we moved in much earlier than we should have. It was good because we were always there to oversee the construction but it was much like camping for us for the first month. The first night we stayed here we only had one working light bulb. No bathroom, no plumbing and no kitchen for about a month. We were really roughing it for a while. Thank goodness for gym memberships and locker rooms! We love how everything has turned out despite the long road to the finish line.

RowHouse: After six months, what is your favorite part of living in your row house?

Dan: Our favorite part is actually being able to settle down and get comfortable in our new home. The past year trying to get the house and renovate it has personally been the most stressful year of our lives. Now that everything is finished we’re so happy to own our own row house and finally start to make it a home.

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